Paleoecology (also spelled palaeoecology) is the study of interactions between organisms and/or interactions between organisms and their environments across geologic timescales. As a discipline, paleoecology interacts with, depends on and informs a variety of fields including paleontology, ecology, climatology and biology.

Paleoecology emerged from the field of paleontology in the 1950s, though paleontologists have conducted paleoecological studies since the creation of paleontology in the 1700s and 1800s. Combining the investigative approach of searching for fossils with the theoretical approach of Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt, paleoecology began as paleontologists began examining both the ancient organisms they discovered and the reconstructed environments in which they lived. Visual depictions of past marine and terrestrial communities has been considered an early form of paleoecology.

Overview of paleoecological approaches

  • Classic paleoecology uses data from fossils and subfossils to reconstruct the ecosystems of the past. It involves the study of fossil organisms and their associated remains (such as shells, teeth, pollen, and seeds), which can help in the interpretation of their life cycle, living interactions, natural environment, communities, and manner of death and burial. Such interpretations aid the reconstruction of past environments (i.e., paleoenvironments). Paleoecologists have studied the fossil record to try to clarify the relationship animals have to their environment, in part to help understand the current state of biodiversity. They have identified close links between vertebrate taxonomic and ecological diversity, that is, between the diversity of animals and the niches they occupy.[1] Classical paleoecology is a primarily reductionist approach: scientists conduct detailed analysis of relatively small groups of organisms within shorter geologic timeframes.
  • Evolutionary paleoecology uses data from fossils and other evidence to examine how organisms and their environments change throughout time. Evolutionary paleoecologists take the holistic approach of looking at both organism and environmental change, accounting for physical and chemical changes in the atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere across time. By studying patterns of evolution and extinction in the context of environmental change, evolutionary paleoecologists are able to examine concepts of vulnerability and resilience in species and environments.
  • Community paleoecology uses statistical analysis to examine the composition and distribution of groups of plants or animals. By quantifying how plants or animals are associated, community paleoecologists are able to investigate the structures of ancient communities of organisms. Advances in technology have helped propel the field, through the use of physical models and computer-based analysis.

Major principles

While the functions and relationships of fossil organisms may not be observed directly (as in ecology), scientists can describe and analyze both individuals and communities over time. To do so, paleoecologists make the following assumptions:

  • All organisms are adapted and restricted to a particular environment, and are usually adapted to a particular lifestyle.
  • Essentially all organisms depend on another organism, whether directly or indirectly.
  • The fossil or physical records are inherently incomplete - the geologic record is selective and some environments are more likely to be preserved than others. Taphonomy, affecting the over- and underrepresentation of fossils, is an extremely important consideration in interpreting fossil assemblages.
  • Uniformitarianism is the concept that processes that took place in the geologic past are the same as the ones that are observed taking place today. In paleoecology, uniformitarianism is used as a methodology: paleoecologists make inferences about ancient organisms and environments based on analogies they find in the present.

Paleoecological methods

Zygospira modesta, atrypid brachiopods, preserved in their original positions on a trepostome bryozoan; Cincinnatian (Upper Ordovician) of southeastern Indiana

The aim of paleoecology is to build the most detailed model possible of the life environment of previously living organisms found today as fossils. The process of reconstructing past environments requires the use of archives (e.g., sediment sequences), proxies (e.g., the micro or mega-fossils and other sediment characteristics that provide the evidence of the biota and the physical environment), and chronology (e.g., obtaining absolute (or relative) dating of events in the archive). Such reconstruction takes into consideration complex interactions among environmental factors such as temperatures, food supplies, and degree of solar illumination. Often much of this information is lost or distorted by the fossilization process or diagenesis of the enclosing sediments, making interpretation difficult.

Some other proxies for reconstructing past environments include charcoal and pollen, which synthesize fire and vegetation data, respectively. Both of these alternates can be found in lakes and peat settings, and can provide moderate to high resolution information.[2] These are well studied methods often utilized in the paleoecological field.

The environmental complexity factor is normally tackled through statistical analysis of the available numerical data (quantitative paleontology or paleostatistics), while the study of post-mortem processes is known as the field of taphonomy.


Much of the original paleoecological research has focused on the last two million years (the Quaternary period), because older environments are less well represented in the fossil timeline of evolution. Indeed, many studies concentrate on the Holocene epoch (the last 11,500 years), or the last glacial stage of the Pleistocene epoch (the Wisconsin/Weichsel/Devensian/Würm glaciation of the ice age, from 50,000 to 11,500 years ago). Such studies are useful[3] for understanding the dynamics of ecosystem change and for reconstructing pre-industrialization ecosystems.

Applications of paleoecology

Paleoecological studies are used to inform conservation, management and restoration efforts.[4][5] In particular, fire-focused paleoecology is an informative field of study to land managers seeking to restore ecosystem fire regimes.

See also


  1. ^ Sahney, S., Benton, M.J. and Ferry, P.A. (2010). "Links between global taxonomic diversity, ecological diversity and the expansion of vertebrates on land" (PDF). Biology Letters. 6 (4): 544–547. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.1024. PMC 2936204. PMID 20106856.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "Paleoecology: a window into the past". Exploring the Past to Understand the Future. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  3. ^ Charles D.F.; Whitehead D. R.; Engstrom D. R.; et al. (1987) Paleoliminological evidence for recent acidification of Big Moose Lake, Adirondack Mountains, New-York (USA). Biogeochemistry, 3, 267-296, doi=10.1007/BF02185196.
  4. ^ Schoonmaker, Peter K.; Foster, David R. (1991). "Some implications of paleoecology for contemporary ecology". The Botanical Review. 57 (3): 204–245. doi:10.1007/BF02858563.
  5. ^ Seddon, Alistair (2013). "Looking forward through the past: identification of 50 priority research questions in palaeoecology" (PDF). Journal of Ecology. 102: 256–267. doi:10.1111/1365-2745.12195.

External links


Albertadromeus is an extinct genus of orodromine parksosaurid dinosaur known from the upper part of the Late Cretaceous Oldman Formation (middle Campanian stage) of Alberta, Canada. It contains a single species, Albertadromeus syntarsus.


Cedrorestes is a genus of iguanodontian dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Utah. It is based on an incomplete skeleton which was found in the Barremian-age Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation.


Dysganus (dis-GANN-us) (meaning "rough enamel") is a dubious genus of ceratopsian dinosaur from the Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous. Its fossil teeth were discovered by Edward Drinker Cope in the Judith River Formation in Montana.


Elrhazosaurus is a genus of basal iguanodontian dinosaur, known from isolated bones found in Lower Cretaceous rocks of Niger. These bones were initially thought to belong to a species of the related dryosaurid Valdosaurus, but have since been reclassified.


Gojirasaurus (meaning "Godzilla Lizard") is a dubious genus of coelophysoid theropod dinosaur named after the giant monster movie character Gojira (the Japanese name for the monster Godzilla).


Isisaurus (named after the Indian Statistical Institute) is a genus of dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous Period. Isisaurus was a sauropod (specifically a titanosaur), which lived in what is now India.


Ixalerpeton (meaning "leaping reptile") is a genus of small, bipedal dinosauromorphs in the lagerpetid family, containing one species, I. polesinensis. It lived in the Late Triassic of Brazil alongside the sauropodomorph dinosaur Buriolestes.

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology is a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal that was established in 1980 by Jiri Zidek (University of Oklahoma). It covers all aspects of vertebrate paleontology, including vertebrate origins, evolution, functional morphology, taxonomy, biostratigraphy, paleoecology, paleobiogeography, and paleoanthropology. The journal is published by Taylor & Francis on behalf of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal has a 2017 impact factor of 2.190.


Magnirostris, from the Latin magnus "large" and rostrum "beak", is the name given to a genus of dinosaur from the upper Campanian stage in the Upper Cretaceous. It was a ceratopsian which lived in Inner Mongolia in China. It is distinguished from other protoceratopsids by its large beak (hence the name) and incipient orbital horn cores.


Manidens is a genus of heterodontosaurid dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic of Patagonia. Fossils have been found in the Cañadón Asfalto Formation in Chubut Province, Argentina, dating to the Bajocian.


Microhadrosaurus (meaning "small sturdy lizard" in Greek) is a genus of hadrosaurid dinosaur from the Campanian or Maastrichtian-age Upper Cretaceous Yuanpu Formation (also known as the Nanxiong Formation) of Guangdong, China. Although its name identifies it as a small hadrosaur, it is based on juvenile remains, and the size of the adult hadrosaur is unknown.


Moabosaurus (meaning "Moab reptile") is a genus of turiasaurian sauropod dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous Cedar Mountain Formation of Utah, United States.


Odontochelys semitestacea (meaning "toothed turtle with a half-shell") is a Late Triassic relative of turtles. Before Pappochelys was discovered and Eunotosaurus was redescribed, Odontochelys was considered the oldest undisputed member of Pantestudines (i.e. a stem-turtle). It is the only known species in the genus Odontochelys and the family Odontochelyidae.


Orodrominae is a subfamily of parksosaurid dinosaurs from the Cretaceous of North America and Asia.

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology ("Palaeo3") is a peer-reviewed scientific journal publishing multidisciplinary studies and comprehensive reviews in the field of palaeoenvironmental geology. The journal is edited by D. J. Bottjer, T. Corrège, A. P. Kershaw, and F. Surlyk. It was established in 1965 and is currently published by Elsevier.


Paludititan is a genus of herbivorous titanosaurian dinosaur which lived in the area of present Romania during the Late Cretaceous. It existed in the island ecosystem known as Hațeg Island.


Plesiohadros is an extinct genus of hadrosauroid dinosaur. It is known from a partial skeleton including the skull collected at Alag Teg locality, from the Campanian Djadochta Formation of southern Mongolia. The type species is Plesiohadros djadokhtaensis.


Pulanesaura is an extinct genus of basal sauropod known from the Early Jurassic (late Hettangian to Sinemurian) Upper Elliot Formation of the Free State, South Africa. It contains a single species, Pulanesaura eocollum, known from partial remains of at least two subadult to adult individuals.


Sanjuansaurus ("San Juan Province lizard") is a genus of herrerasaurid dinosaur from the Late Triassic (Carnian) Cancha de Bochas and La Peña Members of the Ischigualasto Formation of the Ischigualasto-Villa Unión Basin in northwestern Argentina.


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.